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Steps to Stonewall

Early ‘60s D.C. protests laid groundwork for riots, activists say

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Mattachine Society, gay news, Washington Blade
Members of the Mattachine Society gather in 1986 for a 25th anniversary celebration. Lilli Vincenz is fourth from left in the back row. Frank Kameny is first at right in the back row. Paul Kuntzler is bottom right in front of Kameny. (Washington Blade archive photo by Doug Hinckle)

Editor’s note: This story is reprinted from the June 5, 2009 edition of the Blade.

The widely held notion that 1969’s Stonewall riots in New York’s Greenwich Village were the start of the modern gay rights movement is inaccurate local activists say as they were meeting and picketing years before. 

“When people say as you so often hear, that the gay movement started with Stonewall, if I have a chance under the circumstances in which it’s said, I invariably correct them very insistently,” says Frank Kameny, 84, a legendary gay activist widely recognized as one of the great leaders of the homophile movement, as it was then known. “And point out that the movement was just sort of 20 years old already and there was a groundwork.”

Kameny and others who were involved in the early years agree, though, that Stonewall’s influence can’t be overstated, through its significance wasn’t immediately apparent.

Kameny, Lilli Vincenz, Paul Kuntzler, the late Barbara Gittings, the late Jack Nichols and others had been involved in East Coast gay activism for years. An April 1965 picket at the White House by the Kameny-and-Nichols-founded Mattachine Society of Washington was the first of its kind, but involved a small group dressed — at Kameny’s insistence — in shirts and ties for the men and dresses or skirts for the women.

“Things culturally were very, very different then,” Kameny says, describing the scene of an early picket at the Civil Service Commission to protect the inability of gays to get security clearances. “In 1965, men’s shirts were white. Period. There were no other kinds. Dress was very conservative. It changed over the next half decade, changed very significantly … but in terms of those days, if we’re gonna picket to be employed, we have to look employable by their standards.”

A handful of gay groups existed on the East Coast and met regularly as the East Coast Homophile Organizations (ECHO). Those involved say it was a different world.

“Most gay people at the time were not interested in any kind of civil rights activity,” Vincenz, 71, says. “So we were seen as kind of Don Quixotes chasing windmills. I felt they could at least give us some money, but they didn’t do that either. They were worried about their careers and they thought it was a lost cause. They couldn’t imagine it. So I was seen as a crusader and so we were a small group.”

Kameny says it soon became obvious from ECHO gatherings that D.C.’s Mattachine Society was a trendsetter taking on the Civil Service Commission, the qualification of homosexuality as an illness by the American Psychiatric Association, security clearances, the military gay ban and more.

“All those things we were doing, nobody else was doing to any meaningful extent anywhere,” Kameny says. “We had ECHO meetings in October of each year in ’63, ’64 and ’65 and monthly meetings here in Washington, Philadelphia and New York over that period and the Washington Mattachine was doing things and reporting to everyone else what we were doing. Philadelphia had two women … the New York Mattachine had monthly meetings but they were just meetings, they weren’t accomplishing anything particularly. The things that were being done were being done by us here.”

Kuntzler met Kameny one night at the Chicken Hut, a gay D.C. bar, in late February of ’62 and found a kindred spirit. He remembers the sign he made to carry in the first White House protest.

“Jack (Nichols) saw my poster and wanted it, so I let him carry it,” Kuntzler, 67, says with a chuckle. “He ended up in the front of a photo carrying my sign.”

“That was the first time we had any visibility,” Vincenz, who’ll be honored as a Pride “superhero” with Kameny at this year’s Capital Pride parade, says. “Confidential magazine picked us up and put our pictures everywhere. … We’d never had any visibility before that actually.”

One of ECHO’s signature yearly events was an Independence Day protest each year at Independence Hall in Philadelphia. The one held in 1969, though, which turned out to be ECHO’s last, was markedly different. Stonewall had happened less than a week before and changed things forever.

None of the Mattachine activists were involved in the Stonewall riots. Because it was a spontaneous event that quickly gathered steam during a then par-for-the-course police raid on the gay bar, the only people involved were those who happened to be at the Stonewall Inn, a seedy, Mafia-owned dive that attracted drag queens and homeless gay youth, that night. But they heard about it almost instantly.

“We were all in contact through ECHO, so we heard immediately of what had happened,” Vincenz says. “This was a big event that somebody had, so many people fought back against the police.” 

Kameny doesn’t remember exactly whom he heard the news from first but says he was “elated.”

In Philadelphia just days later at the ECHO protest, it was clear the formal Mattachine members had some new allies.

“It looked very different,” Vincenz says. “People didn’t care about any dress rules. The Stonewall crowd came over and there we had, we weren’t supposed to have beards and sandals but now we had beards and sandals. I remember two women, black, white, holding a baby and holding hands. It was just new. And there was some of kind of disgruntlement by some of the old guard. This was a new influx of grassroots activists.” 

While the Independence Day picket seemed slightly different, it became apparent that things were much different on June 28, 1970 for the first Christopher Street Gay Liberation Day March, a one-year commemoration of Stonewall that morphed into the annual Pride parades.

Kameny, who attended, was dumbfounded by the turnout.

“I remember … seeing this vast horde of people and I was absolutely speechless,” he says. “Flowing in like a river into the Sheep Meadow in Central Park. If nothing else, there it was in front of one’s eyes. It would have been impossible in terms of anything movement-wise prior to that. We had clearly overstepped a line. We had transitioned.” 

Cliff Witt, a longtime local D.C. gay activist, accompanied Vincenz to the parade as a camera assistant for the film she made called “Gay and Proud.” 

“I had heard of Stonewall before, but I don’t remember how I first heard,” he says. “I had many trepidations. You could not be gay in those days. Lilli was out through her Mattachine work. I agreed that I would be like the press, running along side, but not part of it.”

Back home in Washington, huge changes were underway. The Mattachine Society was winding down, eclipsed somewhat by the newly formed Gay Activist Alliance (GAA, which became the Gay & Lesbian Activist Alliance in the ‘80s), a spin-off of a similar New York group.

Stonewall’s significance is almost universally recognized but it’s not the whole story players active then say.

Kuntzler says Stonewall-type events were also brewing in Washington around that time. He recalls a May 1969 night at D.C.’s Plus One, a gay bar on 8th Street, S.E. It didn’t turn violent and wasn’t as dramatic as Stonewall, but the long line of gay men waiting to get in that Thursday night didn’t turn and run when a mammoth flock of police cars arrived.

“They hardly paid any attention (to the cops),” Kuntzler says. “It just didn’t work, so the cops went away. This was a liberation in a way, too. It was indicative of a profound psychological shift that had started.”

“It was like Stonewall started the mainstream gays,” Witt says. “It sort of started the organization of the gay liberation movement as we came to know it. … It became more militant and demanding and in your face. We weren’t polite any longer.”

Kameny puts it succinctly: “I feel we created a mindset without which Stonewall would not have occurred at all.”

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Arts & Entertainment

RuPaul makes Emmy history with 11 wins, most ever for a Black artist

Ru did not make mention of the history-making win- instead thanking the Academy, Viacom and CBS and “all of you gorgeous people here tonight”

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RuPaul picking up his trophiy at the Creative Arts Emmys earlier this month. (Screenshot via YouTube)

LOS ANGELES – In a first for the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences since it began the Primetime Emmy Awards January 25, 1949, the iconic drag performer and host of RuPaul’s Drag Race, RuPaul broke the record for the most wins by a Black entertainer with 11 wins at the 73rd annual awards ceremony Sunday night.

RuPaul bested the previous record holder, cinematographer Donald A. Morgan, who was also nominated but did not win in his category for his work on sitcoms “The Upshaws,” “The Conners” and “Last Man Standing.”

The Hollywood Reporter noted, “VH1’s RuPaul’s Drag Race won a trophy for outstanding competition program at tonight’s telecast, a victory that gives RuPaul an 11th Emmy and solidifies his place as the most decorated Black artist in Emmy Awards history.

During the show’s acceptance speech, Ru did not make mention of the history-making win. Instead, he thanked the Academy, Viacom and CBS and “all of you gorgeous people here tonight.”

“Really thanks to all of our lovely children on our show from around the world,” he continued. “You know, they are so gracious to tell their stories of courage and how to navigate this difficult life [that was more difficult this year]. This is for you and for you kids out there watching. Come to Mama Ru.”

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Galleries

BMA exhibit traces friendship between Matisse and Etta Cone

Baltimore collector helped build world’s preeminent repository of French master’s work

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Henri Matisse. Seated Odalisque, Left Knee Bent, Ornamental Background and Checkerboard. 1928. (The Baltimore Museum of Art: The Cone Collection, formed by Dr. Claribel Cone and Miss Etta Cone of Baltimore, Maryland, BMA 1950.255. © Succession H. Matisse/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York)

The Baltimore Museum of Art is the world’s most important repository of French modern master Henri Matisse’s work and this fall, a new exhibition will explore the friendship between the artist and Etta Cone, the Baltimore collector who befriended Matisse in 1906. 

The two maintained a close 43-year friendship, during which time Matisse traveled to Baltimore and created works with Etta and the BMA in mind. Etta and her sister Claribel ultimately collected about 700 of Matisse’s works, according to the BMA, including Blue Nude (1907), The Yellow Dress (1929-31), and Large Reclining Nude (1935). 

This new exhibit, “A Modern Influence: Henri Matisse, Etta Cone, and Baltimore” will trace their friendship through letters they exchanged and includes more than 160 paintings, sculptures, prints, drawings, and illustrated books. 

Etta Cone (Photo courtesy of Claribel Cone and Etta Cone Papers, Archives and Manuscripts Collections, The Baltimore Museum of Art)

“For years, scholars have debated the purchases made by both Cone sisters, with much more credit given to the important acquisitions of major paintings by older sister Claribel,” the BMA said in a statement. “‘Modern Influence: Henri Matisse, Etta Cone, and Baltimore’ will for the first time fully recognize Etta’s achievements as a collector and acknowledge her role in building the majority of the sisters’ Matisse collection, particularly the sculpture, drawings, and prints.” 

Henri Matisse at the dining room in of Etta Cone’s apartment in Baltimore, 1930. (Photo courtesy of Claribel Cone and Etta Cone Papers, Archives and Manuscripts Collections, The Baltimore Museum of Art)

“Etta Cone and Matisse shared a love of gesture and the female form, expressed not only through her collection of his major paintings, but through an early and sustained interest in his print making and drawing practices. The exhibition begins with work on paper and ends there as well,” said Leslie Cozzi, BMA associate curator of prints, drawings, and photographs.

The exhibition will feature a large selection of drawings, including masterpieces that are rarely on view due to light exposure restrictions, the BMA announced. 

“Etta Cone’s dedication to art, and to Matisse’s work in particular, has had a profound impact on the BMA and the focused and studied ways in which the museum continues to develop its collection. The forthcoming exhibition captures the exciting possibilities that can be achieved when artists, collectors, and public institutions join in a shared vision and commitment. We are delighted to present visitors with the incredible story of Etta Cone and the significant works of art that she brought to our museum, and to have this exhibition serve as a prelude to the presentations, programs, and publications that we’ll be able to create through our soon to be opened Ruth R. Marder Center for Matisse Studies,” said Christopher Bedford, the BMA’s Dorothy Wagner Wallis Director.


Henri Matisse. The Yellow Dress. 1929-31. (The Baltimore Museum of Art: The Cone Collection, formed by Dr. Claribel Cone and Miss Etta Cone of Baltimore, Maryland. BMA 1950.256 © Succession H. Matisse, Paris/Artists Rights Society (ARS) New York)

The Marder Center, which is scheduled to open in December, will present the breadth of the BMA’s Matisse holdings, while supporting the development of new scholarly publications that advance discussions on the trajectory of modern art, according to a statement. 

“A Modern Influence: Henri Matisse, Etta Cone, and Baltimore” opens Oct. 3 and will be on view until Jan. 2, 2022. Tickets are available through artbma.org. Prices are $15 for adults, $13 for seniors, $12 for groups of 7 or more, $5 for students with ID, and $5 for youth ages 7-18. BMA Members, children ages 6 and under, and student groups are admitted free. For more information, call 443-573-1701.

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Television

New films feature gay superhero, Tammy Faye, and feel-good drag

Cumberbatch takes on another gay role in ‘Power of the Dog’

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‘Everybody’s Talking About Jamie’ is the feel-good queer movie of the season. (Photo courtesy Amazon)

It’s fall again, and that means it’s time to look forward to the things we love about this time of the year – and no, I’m not talking about pumpkin spice. I’m referring, of course, to the new movies headed our way, and there are quite a few this year that should be of interest to LGBTQ+ viewers. Fortunately, as usual, the Blade is here to help you plan your own must-see list for the season with the help of our handy guide below.

Giddy Stratospheres (Sept.14): If you’re a movie fan who also has a taste for musical nostalgia, this gritty love letter to the indie music scene of the 2000s from writer/director Laura Jean Marsh is definitely for you. Shot entirely during lockdown in the UK, it follows a pair of indie kids and best friends (Jamal Franklin and Marsh herself) as they party their nights away on a quest for the ultimate in hedonistic euphoria and excitement. If memories of donning boots, ripped tights, and eyeliner for a night at the club aren’t enough, there’s also a fabulously queer leading character and soundtrack featuring a smorgasbord of retro hits from the likes of Franz Ferdinand, The Futureheads, The Walkmen, Le Tigre, The Rapture, Art Brut, The Cribs, Black Wire, The Rocks, Theoretical Girl, Pink Grease and more. Available via VOD now.

Everybody’s Talking About Jamie (Sept. 17): Delayed due to COVID but finally here is this bubbling and buzzy film version of the hit West End musical by Tom MacRae, inspired by a 2011 television documentary, in which a gay 16-year-old named Jamie New (Max Harwood) overcomes teasing, bullying, and a complicated home life to realize his dream of becoming a drag queen – with help from a loyal best friend (Lauren Patel), a supportive mom (Sarah Lancashire), and an aging drag mentor named Loco Chanel (Richard E. Grant). Translated to the screen by original stage director Jonathan Butterell and adapted into a screenplay by MacRae himself, it’s won early praise by critics for its “infectious” spirit and is probably the odds-on favorite to be the feel-good queer movie of the season. With Shobna Gulati, Ralph Ineson, Samuel Bottomley, Sharon Horgan, and Charlotte Salt, it also features a cameo from Roy Haylock (better known as Bianca Del Rio, of course), who played the role of Loco Chanel onstage. VOD and streaming on Amazon Prime.

The Eyes of Tammy Faye (Sept. 17): Like the now-classic documentary of the same name, this much-anticipated biopic is an intimate look at the extraordinary rise, fall and redemption of televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker, who with her husband Jim Bakker created the world’s largest religious broadcasting network before financial improprieties, scheming rivals, and scandal toppled their carefully constructed empire. Legendary for her indelible eyelashes, her idiosyncratic singing, and her eagerness to embrace people from all walks of life, she went on to become an unlikely but beloved LGBTQ icon, vocally supporting the community and helping to reduce stigma around AIDS through the platform afforded by her celebrity. Directed by Michael Showalter, it stars Jessica Chastain as Tammy Faye, with Andrew Garfield as Jim and a supporting cast including Cherry Jones, Fredric Lehne, Louis Cancelmi, Sam Jaeger, Gabriel Olds, Mark Wystrach, and Vincent D’Onofrio. In Theaters.

On the Fringe of Wild (Oct. 13)

In this Canadian import set in the early 2000s, a sensitive and shy small town teen named Peter runs away from his homophobic father during a hunting trip designed to “make him a man.” Lost in the cold Ontario wilderness, he meets Jack – another teen on the run from his toxic family – and a romance buds between them as they hide away in a secluded cabin; when they are inevitably pulled back into the real world, they’re forced to confront their sexuality, their mental health, and the oppressive home life that threatens to drive them apart. Directed by Emma Caralfamo from a bleak but hopeful screenplay by Sorelle Doucet, it features trans actor Harrison Browne as Peter and Cameron Stewart as Jack, with Mikael Melo, Andrew Bee, Audrey Nesbitt, Bernadette Medhurst, Andrea Pavlovic, and Adam Jenner in support. VOD.

Eternals (Nov. 5)

Marvel Studios gets a jump on the holiday blockbuster rush with the long-awaited (and long-delayed) release of this new addition to their comics-to-screen franchise, an epic and ensemble-centered action fantasy that introduces, among other characters, Brian Tyree Henry’s Phastos – the first openly gay superhero to be depicted in a Marvel film. It even promises an onscreen kiss between Tyree and Haaz Sleiman, who portrays Phastos’ husband. We’ll take a wait-and-see attitude on whether or not it’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment. Directed by Oscar winner Chloé Zhao, it has an all-star cast that includes Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Kit Harrington, Salma Hayak, Kumail Nanjiani, Lauren Ridloff, Barry Keoghan, Don Lee, and Angelina Jolie.

Isaac (Nov. 16):

Coming from Spain is this debut feature from writer/directors Angeles Hernández and David Matamoros, adapted from a stage play by Antonio Hernández Centeno and centered on two friends named Nacho and Isaac, who had an intense relationship as teens and meet again by chance after 20 years. Nacho, now financially successful and trying to have a baby with his wife Marta, proposes an arrangement with struggling entrepreneur Denis and his partner Carmen: If they will provide the “surrogate belly” for Marta’s pregnancy, he will give them the money they need to open their gourmet restaurant. The deal, of course, opens the door for a lot of resurfaced feelings that forces the two men to discover themselves at the risk of losing the apparent stability they now have. Starring Pepe Ocio and Iván Sánchez (who won the Best Actor prize for his performance as Nacho at the 2020 Malaga Film Festival), it also features Maria Ribera, Erika Bleda, and Nacho San José. VOD.

The Power of the Dog (Nov. 17):

Squeaking in just before the holiday season is this adaptation of the 1967 Thomas Savage novel by the same name, directed by renowned filmmaker Jane Campion and starring screen heavyweights Benedict Cumberbatch and Kirsten Dunst. Set in 1925 Montana, it’s a character-driven drama in which a brutal but charismatic rancher (Cumberbatch) finds his life disrupted when his brother (Jesse Plemons) brings a new wife (Dunst) and son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) home to the ranch. At first cold and cruel, he begins to take his new step-nephew under his wing, and a relationship begins to form that opens up memories of a buried past and awakens him to the possibilities of love. On the one hand, it’s garnered predictable controversy over the casting of the straight-identifying Cumberbatch in a high-profile queer role (his second after playing Alan Turing in “The Imitation Game”) – but on the other, it’s one of the best-reviewed upcoming films on the slate so far. In addition, Campion is a cinematic master whose work here won her the Silver Lion for directing at this year’s Venice Film Festival, so it’s worth taking that into consideration before you decide to give this one a pass. In theaters.

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